Kinder and gentler messaging for limited ballot access

New Maine frames seem to focus on unenrolled voters

Just the other day two new claims were put forth by those who oppose election day registration in Maine.

Evidently they are just not happy that some say partisanship is involved with this issue. And those organized against election day registration are not just one group or one party — No, they’re a coalition. 

Contrary to what you may read, hear or see, the controversy surrounding referendum Question 1, the “people’s veto” of recently enacted changes to Maine’s voter registration requirements, is not and should not be a partisan issue. Nonetheless this is the story that many of those involved in the people’s veto would have you believe. – October 18, 2011

A small-business owner and 13-year Navy veteran from North Yarmouth is leading a coalition seeking to defeat the people’s veto question that tops the Maine referendum ballot. Christopher Tyll said he got involved in the campaign because he believes the public debate has turned into another partisan battle. – October 19, 2011

In a recent radio interview, Tyll emotionally described his reasons for getting involved: “Over the last three months I have watched the debate over Election Day voter registration spiral into yet another partisan battle. Tyll and the No on One-Secure Maine’s Ballot campaign represent a growing majority of Americans becoming fed up with the ineffectiveness of the current political climate. – Press Release – October 18, 2011

Early arguments in opposition to the thirty-eight year old practice of election-day registration were rather harsh, a style that’s unusual in Maine politics.

Back in June 2011, Maine’s Republican Party Chair said that Democrats steal elections and somehow election day registration was to blame. Since then, we’ve seen this official call for investigating out of state students. While the Secretary of State found no fraud, much of the messaging focused on “potential fraud.”

Some discussions of voters who haven’t registered before election day implied that they did not care much and probably did not know much either.

Although some of those arguments continue to be made, this new approach is certainly kinder and gentler.

Given Maine’s political culture and the large number of unenrolled voters (what people outside of Maine call Independents), this is probably a sensible shift.

However, there are some problems with the new rhetorical approach:

1. The vote to change Maine’s nearly 40-year practice of election day voter registration was brought up and championed by the Republican party and the only legislators to vote for it were Republicans.

2. While there is a multi-group coalition in favor of election-day registration which includes a number of nonpartisan groups (along with progressive and Democratic ones), there is no evidence of any coalition in favor of more limited ballot access.

The website for Secure Our Votes doesn’t list any coalition partners — not one.

In contrast, the website for Protect Maine Votes lists twenty-four coalition members on its bottom banner and this listing doesn’t include some, such as the Maine Municipal Association and Fusion Bangor.

3. Unenrolled voters are by far the biggest users of election day registration. They have the most at stake should ballot access on election day become more restricted than it has been in Maine.

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.